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Who's in Our Drawings?
a sermon based on Luke 7:36 -50
by Rev. Thomas Hall

Inspiration for artists can come from a variety of sources. For Ansel Adams snow-capped mountain vistas often captured his imagination. Georgia O’Keefe is remembered for her intricate and delicate photographs of flowers. But for artist Kathe Kollwitz (late 19th / early 20th century) inspiration came not from hill or dale but from suffering-hopeless, stupid suffering. She captured as no other the suffering that war, poverty, and social vice created. To underscore the hopelessness she saw all around her in the impoverished part of Berlin where she lived, she used blunt charcoal to create grotesque caricatures of human form and pain.

One image is especially haunting. I can still see it-a little man stands in a shadowy corner just outside the doorway of what might well be a grand European cathedral. The shadows keep us from getting a good look at him, but we see enough. He has a piece of paper crumpled in his hand and he looks intently to the action on the other side of the door that stands ajar. The man is apparently in a quandary: do I go in or should I just stay out here? His eyes suggest a deep longing to enter the place of worship to pray. But his posture and face tell a different story-he couldn’t possible enter through the door into the sanctuary. The one-word title at the bottom of the drawing tells us why he stands in the shadowy corner. The drawing is simply entitled, "Fear."

Kathe Kollwitz’ drawing of fear is not far from another artist’s rendition of someone else standing in a shadowy corner. This artist is Luke-at least that’s what tradition has ascribed to this evangelist. He is a physician and an artist. In the gallery of his gospel, we see an interesting scene containing three characters-Simon the Pharisee, and unnamed woman, and Jesus. The story goes like this.

Jesus responds to a dinner invitation from Simon the Pharisee. The day arrives and he shows up at Simon’s house for lunch. Now we already know something of Jesus from his life and teachings, but what do we know about Simon? Simon wears the title Pharisee and that supplies important information. To be a member of the Sanhedrin Council which Pharisees were, you’d have to be literate and educated. And by virtue of his knowledge of religion, he would naturally wield a fair amount of authority and influence in the community.

But there’s more. If we go back just one chapter we learn one more thing about Simon: he has an opinion about Jesus. "Jesus a prophet? Bah humbug!" No, Simon believes that Jesus is not a prophet. Luke informs us in a sidebar statement that the Pharisees and experts in religious law had rejected God’s plan for them. So Simon has rejected Jesus as playing any role whatever in God’s plan. But of course he lacks hard evidence about this hunch. So we’re safe to say that Simon has invited Jesus over to scrutinize him, to confirm his opinion of Jesus.

But we don’t want to cast aspersions on Simon nor mischaracterize him. Luke does not draw Simon as some bad guy or villain in sheep’s clothing. The Simon-types of Jesus’ day were quite the opposite. We might say we believe the Bible from Genesis to Revelation-that’s sort of an in-house mantra in some Christian communities. Well, Simon’s friends would say the same. They believed the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings.

Remember what the Bible says in Psalm 26:4? A little rusty? Well Simon would be wondering if we want it in Hebrew or English. I do not spend time with liars or go along with hypocrites. I hate the gatherings of those who do evil, and I refuse to join in with the wicked. In Simon’s world, holiness and good moral living is at the center of the universe. The bestselling book among Simon and his friends might well have been The Righteous-Driven Life. Those who truly loved God hated sin-and of course, sinners.

So you can imagine that Simon may not have been a party-hearty kind of guy the day Jesus entered his home. And we may never have even been privy to Luke’s little charcoal sketch of this one day in the life of Jesus except what happens next. Because what happens next ratchets up the drama.

For walking into the story is Simon’s opposite: she’s a woman, not a man, bears no name, and arrives uninvited. Luke simply says of this woman that she was a certain immoral woman. Wouldn’t that look good on a business card: Immoral person;" just dial 1 900 XXX-XXXX. Unnamed? She’s been handed plenty of names by others-the village hooker, a prostitute, a street-walker, and worse. Maybe Luke left off the woman’s name as a act of propriety and kindness.

You’d think a party-crasher like this woman would be absolutely scandalous to Simon. After all, he’s spent his life trying to avoid her crowd. He’s read about her in Proverbs 7-Don’t wander down her wayward path. For she has been the ruin of many . . . her bedroom is the den of death.

But on the other hand, could this be a set-up by Simon? Maybe Simon wanted to test Jesus’ knowledge of proper deportment and reactions of prophets to such party-crashers. "How will Jesus react?" Simon must have wondered. Will he rise up in righteous indignation at such an encounter? John the Baptist would’ve done that. Elijah would’ve done that, Simon reasons. So if Jesus is some prophet like that, then, well, we’ll see what he’ll do.

This I’mOkayYou’reNotOkayTooBadForYou paradigm of Simon’s isn’t just a rough caricature of first century Palestine. Haven’t you seen Simon the Pharisee in our churches? He sometimes leads in worship, you may see her reading the lessons on Sunday, Simon might facilitate a small group or even preach sermons.

Recently I was leading a small group that included Christians and persons considering the Christian faith-about ten of us on this particular night. I’m not sure how we got on the subject, but in the course of the discussion someone said, "I believe in reincarnation." To their credit the group-all of whom would not embrace this belief-did not try to correct or to put this young lady down for her remarks. I found it even more insightful that for the first time that night during closing prayer, this same person said, "Thank you God for this group, that there is openness to question and search for you."

"Pastor Hall," I heard the voice over the phone the next day with some energy to it, "we are appalled that you didn’t speak up and correct that young lady’s off-the-wall remark. "But we agreed when we began this small group," I reminded the caller, that we would allow people to express their honest feelings, beliefs, and questions without fear of reprisals, of getting answers thrown at them or being corrected."

"Well, count us out; we will not stay in a Christian small group that believes in reincarnation!" I heard her mind clearly-if he were really a Spirit-filled pastor, why he would’ve . . ."

We released our Simonized friends to seek ministry in a theologically more comfortable environment; but we chose to keep our seeking friend under the nurture and openness of the small group.

So Simon is sitting there having this great intrapersonal conversation with himself. Hah! I knew it! Glorious day-Jesus is an imposter and not a prophet! If he were a prophet he would have known that that . . . women who dared to touch him was one of those . . . women!

Yet the hilarious part of this story is that Jesus is listening in on Simon’s little internal conversation. He knows exactly what Simon is thinking. Not only that, but Jesus forms a little on-his-feet story that unveils Simon’s discrimination and judging spirit. "Hey, Simon, got a an after dinner story for you."

"Say on," says Simon.

"Okay. Two people take out loans from a banker; one guy takes out a loan for $10,000 and the other hits him up for ten bucks; both go belly up. In the end, the banker-friend releases them of their debt. So Simon," Jesus concludes, "which is going to more appreciative of their banker-friend?"

"That’s obvious!" says Simon (who always likes to solve riddles), "the one who owed $10,000."

"Bingo! Absolutely right!" Jesus affirms. But then he brings the story home-maybe too close to home so that soon enough, Simon gets the point. He’s the one who has withheld hospitality and honor from Jesus because Simon enjoys a together life, a morally upright life already. What good is forgiveness to him? Forgiveness for what-a measly infraction of miscalculating a step on Sabbath day? What? Forgetting to tithe a couple of leaves of mint?

The woman, on the other hand, has been standing in a shadowy corner most of her life. Her eyes suggest a deep longing to enter God’s presence for forgiveness. But she’s no Simon. She couldn’t possible enter into God’s presence. "For God’s sake, I know who I am and what I’ve done," she cries. So she stands in the shadowy corner looking in, longing to come in but afraid to come in.

"I do know who you are and what you’ve done-and you’ve done some things-but I forgive you."

Let God use this story to remind us that we are to be holy persons; that’s who God calls all of us to be. But God is at work in our life not to insulate us within holy enclaves, but to release us into ministry in ways that draw people to God. In ways that show the hospitality of one who has been forgiven an impossible debt and can only act out of gratitude.

In the end, Jesus answered Simon’s question for him. "Is he or is he not a prophet?" Simon had wondered. Simon discovered that day a prophet truly had entered his house. For Jesus not only knew who it was who came in and wept and washed his feet with her tears, but he also knew Simon’s thoughts and read his judgmental heart. That’s a real prophet! But he’s more than a prophet, because he not only read hearts and minds, but he did something that only God could do-he said, "your sins are forgiven!" And he continues to be more than a prophet for us. Amen.